Armchair installation [collecting interviews]
One of the three pieces I have currently been working on is the Armchair installation. The idea for the end outcome is to have a room full of armchairs with talking heads (television monitors) all in different conversations with one another.
The process is slow, for each interview I have had to construct questions to ask the participant and asked them to repeat questions back to me (for the next interviewee to answer.) The participants are all over the age of 60 and I have travelled to their homes and filmed their heads sitting comfortably in a chair. The video footage has subsequently been edited and synced alongside the other relevant participant(s). The installation will involve intimate individual (human) portraits but as a whole the outcome will be rather chaotic and humorous as these televisions unashamedly talk over one another.
The process has been quite enriching, i could potentially see the interviews never ending. An endless collection of conversations between people who have never met one another (could I make documentary from this footage?)
My dad reminded me that as a child I was always full of (prying) questions for other people; I think humans and their stories will forever be a core part of my practice because they will never stop intriguing me. The reason we make art is in order to try to understand the world and the complexity of being alive.
I was down in Devon interviewing my mum's dad and his wife and I was shocked to have experienced my first encounter of vulnerability from him as he talked about a man who had died and who he had admired. The interviews can often become emotional depending on how much the participant wants to reveal but it is often the females who are willing to reveal more. Perhaps what I am learning from the interviews is in line with the Grayson Perry book I am reading at the moment 'The Descent of Man' where Perry talks about men being less likely to reveal "their vulnerable underbellies." This then took me onto beautifully written poems by the pent-up poet Bukowski, particularly 'Bluebird." It is clear to see that something as simple as collecting interviews with people looking back on their lives has opened up the work to an array of themes on masculinity, maternal instinct, love, work, passion, addiction, humour and loss. All of which will be fired from a television screen at the head of an armchair.
I started to look at Jordan Baseman quite recently and I couldn't believe how relevant his video work was to my Armchair installation (above). In a lot of Baseman's work he looks at ideas of portraiture and representation;
"A lot of my work is driven by first-person singular narratives, we hear people talking about themselves and their experiences. I interview people talking about themselves and I remove myself from the soundtrack in the hope that the work sounds like its speaking directly to an audience."
Unlike Baseman my interviews are designed so that they are talking to each other rather than a viewer but he is similarly trying to capture 'fleeting moments in a poignant way.' He also talks about how he gets hold of participants via advertisements, third-party introductions, approaching them cold, occasionally paying them etc, which was useful to hear on a practical level. His work has really struck a chord with me, I like the simplicity of it but also the way he presents it visually and the collaboration with sound and music. He takes other peoples stories, chews them up and transforms them into something new.
I completed this piece quite quickly within the first few months of the course. I have talked about the set up and installation of the piece under the [Screening] section but I just wanted to quickly talk about its content. One video, taken by me, captures my Grandad singing 'Raglan Road' in his armchair at home. The other video, taken by me, is being shown on my Grandad's television from an old VCR recording of a 'Come West along the road' broadcast on Telifis Eirean (Irish Television). It shows the folk singer Luke Kelly (from the Dubliners) also singing 'Raglan Road' - a poem written by Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh about love and loss. The two videos have been edited so that they sing in time with one another, some form of duet.
The piece is undeniably a glance back at my Irish heritage but it also shows a powerful portrait of two men from a similar era and background singing in two completely different decades. The song itself is quite slow and seems painful, when I showed the piece to my peer group during a session they got a strong sense of cultural displacement from my Grandad, a look back at his home and upbringing. I am still trying to work out what I get from the piece but I know that I keep watching it every so often because it has quite a strong impact on me.
Jessie suggested Breitz to me in a tutorial and she fits under almost all of my Arc headings for informing my practice. In terms of human portraiture her pieces can look at at a number of specifics including parent-child relationships but overall she is using the portraits to "reflect her concern with the instability of identity in an age of widespread media saturation."
I like that she uses found material, as well as primary material, specifically from film to illustrate this point on the impact of mass media on our identity formation. For example in 'Mother Father' (2005) Breitz combined various clips of Hollywood actors playing mothers and fathers into a dysfunctional montage. Our views on parenthood have potentially been shaped by these familiar clips in Film. I like the way she presents the individual portraits alongside a mass of others - it is similar to what I have envisaged for the Armchair installation. By doing this you introduce humour to a potentially heavy subject as these people continuously talk over one another (as they do in real life).
Talking Heads Series
For the Assessment piece I wanted to test out the practicalities of the 'Armchair Installation' I am striving towards (please refer to text at top of page). The piece is therefore unfinished and un-named, it is a sort-of tester/ trailer for things to come. The final installation aims to collate a room full of these talking armchairs, which will be clustered into separate conversations, all of which have been edited and synced together to create a room full of life experiences. This piece I have created involves my mum's dad and his wife, who were videoed and interviewed separately; I asked them questions and they asked me questions, the questions they asked me were then asked to the next person and so on (this is the technique I have used with every interview, I have currently done nine.) For both talking heads I started with an armchair, I then cut into the armchair and installed a shelf in the workshop with the intention that the television could sit and be engulfed in the head of the chair. It was quite important for me that it was done as simply and subtly as possible so that the viewer wouldn't think twice about how the television was resting vertically on the chair. I wanted the essence of two people in conversation to be the focal point.
I can't fully say why I am looking specifically at older people, initially I thought it would be quite humorous to have this installation that resembled a care home where you walk in and you are faced with a sea of voices all talking over one another (and not listening.) After collaborating with so many different people now the piece may have turned into something else for me. I have been struck with how open a lot of the participants have been, how calm and reflective and slowed down their perspective on life is. This is something that is missing for us, the ability to stop - we are all walking around with our square heads and our square eyes, unable to relax and less satisfied with 'the little things in life.' I think that what i would like to achieve with this piece is to potentially slow down the viewer and ask them to listen to another point of view, invest in someone else's life for a few minutes.
I have picked Chris and Margaret because I knew I wanted to show two talking heads, the conversation itself isn't finished and has been cut for the purpose of assessment. It is looped so that the two are in constant company with one another. If the viewer is invested enough they may eventually find out that Margaret has had an incredibly difficult life full of loss and tragedy or they may become bored and move onto the next piece of work. As always the sense of humour is present, these two may be in synced conversation but that doesn't stop them interrupting one another.